Shadow the Hedgehog is the bravest Sonic game. I’ll stand by that statement until I die, I swear to god. It’s more out-there than Unleashed, more absurd than the Who Killed Sonic dating sim. It’s also by no means the best Sonic game ever released, but as an occasional enjoyer of going fast and all that entails, it is damn interesting, even 18 years on.
Shadow the Hedgehog was such a swerve of expectations, such a wildcard. Some individual or group of people had a moronic idea. Let’s take the speed out of Sonic – let’s rip it right out and replace it with guns. How on earth this was percieved as a good idea is beyond me. Perhaps in some bold attempt to appeal to a whole new audience, entire departments looked at Shadow reloading an SMG menacingly and thought “yeah that rocks, the kids will love this.”
I, tragically, was one of those kids, albeit on that fell victim a few years after the game’s original release. I found Shadow the Hedgehog where all the great games of old could be found – gathering dust with a staggering discount on a shelf at GAME. That may be Shadow the Hedgehog’s natural habitat to be honest, the place it always deserved to end up.
I knew what Sonic the Hedgehog was obviously, every kid with a computer and a vague interest in games did, but Shadow was so opposed to the bright colours of something like Sonic Heroes. I had no choice but to buy it really. I had to know what was going on.
There’s something to be said of the game’s eagerness to tempt you into being the bad boy Shadow desperately wants to be. From mission one you are given an option to gun down a bunch of American soldiers via an obviously evil floating squid. The game didn’t shame you for doing so – in fact it presented you with new levels and varying paths through the story depending on how good or evil you wanted to be.
As such, it was a game I played over and over again, going down every road it offered and taking a mental note of the differences this made to each run. In reality it was a great way of making few assets go a long way, but to an impressionable mind it represented new secrets to uncover. It was a shame then, that the gameplay itself lacked much of what made good 3D Sonic games so good. Unless you were super down to clown with Shadow’s unique brand of tomfoolery, you would be better served just looking up the game’s endings.
Looking back now, I think the reason I and various other people of a similar age didn’t mind Shadow the Hedgehog too much wasn’t because it spoke to our edgy hearts, it’s because we didn’t really know what was lost in the transition from 150 miles-per-hour dashes to 150 dead-soldiers-per-hour clashes. Having now played a bunch of Sonic games both old and new, it’s impossible to ignore how sluggish the game is. If you were a Sonic fan back then, it must have felt like a bit of a bad joke.
With all that said, I still recommend it to people simply because of its most ludicrous moments. Even back then I was taken aback by some stank on this monster. The president of the USA having a framed photo of Shadow and Sonic. Shadow unloading bullets into said president’s escape plane. Shadow seemingly killing Eggman in one of the non-canon endings, as we all wish we could. The opening cinematic, which sees Shadow stand furious over a beaten Sonic (that’s the SEGA mascot guys, what were you thinking).
And finally, the cherry on top. An opening theme song that’s so angsty and yet so, so good. It has the same guilty pleasure feeling to it as a red velvet cake, so rich with cringe that it’s hard to consume in its entirety. Those who can stomach the horrendous vibes are treated to a game that isn’t very good, but is in fact so bad as to be a true marvel.
18 years later, Shadow the Hedgehog has grown up – gone mature. It’s a relic from an incredibly interesting moment in time for the franchise, and is – if nothing else – a monument to the forever war SEGA is fighting to try and get new generations to care about Sonic and his mates. I will always have a place in my heart for Shadow the Hedgehog, no matter how much of a mess it is.